The regional cooperation in the field of culture started with the First Meeting of the Technical Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture held in New Delhi in January 1989. Since then it has been an important area of cooperation among SAARC countries.
The Tenth Summit recognized the profound cultural continuum of South Asia as a historical basis for sustaining harmonious relations among the peoples of the region and welcomed the offer of Sri Lanka to host a meeting of Ministers of Cultural Affairs with the objective, inter alia, of establishing a South Asian Cultural Centre. A preparatory meeting of the Secretaries of Cultural Affairs was held in Colombo in November 2001, which recommended practical measures, among others, for protection, conservation and maintenance of cultural and pilgrimage sites; development of archaeology and musicology; encouragement of contemporary arts and culture; engaging the corporate sector and non-state organizations in cultural activities; and developing cooperative links with UN and other regional institutions.
The Meeting of the Cultural Affairs Ministers was held in Colombo on 5-7 February 2003. It approved measures for protection, conservation and maintenance of South Asian Cultural Heritage, and cooperation among Member States in promoting contemporary arts and culture.
SAARC Cultural Festivals are held regularly. Last such festival was held in Dhaka in March 2004. The next cultural festival is to be held in New Delhi.
Sri Lanka hosted the first ever SAARC Film Festival in September 1999. On that occasion, three seminars were also held on different aspects of the South Asian cinema including on film as cultural expression, film marketing and distribution, and the future of the film industry. Another film festival is to be held in Sri Lanka in December 2004. Recommendations of the Technical Committee on HRD at its First Meeting (Colombo 4-5 March 2004) that the SAARC film festivals may be organized annually by Member States in rotation has been approved by the Standing Committee. This would significantly contribute to the promotion of culture among the SAARC countries.
The Leaders during the Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, 4 - 6 January 2004), took pride in the rich cultural mosaic of the peoples of South Asia and underlined the need for preservation of traditional skills and crafts, and promotion of cultural exchanges between nations.
During the Thirteenth Summit (Dhaka, 12 - 13 November 2005) the Leaders recognized the crucial role of culture in bringing the people of South Asia closer. They also stressed that cooperation in the area of culture was vital for reinforcing and projecting the distinct identity of South Asia. The SAARC Ministers of Culture were directed to meet soon to elaborate a SAARC Agenda for Culture.
At the Thirteenth SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in November 2005, the Heads of State or Government directed the SAARC Ministers of Culture to meet as soon as possible to elaborate a SAARC Agenda for Culture. Consequently, at the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Second Meeting of Ministers of Culture was held on 31 October 2007 in Colombo.
The Meeting considered the matters relating to establishment of the SAARC Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka, establishment of a SAARC Museum of Textiles and Handicrafts in India, SAARC Agenda for Culture, Protection, Conservation and Maintenance of the South Asian Cultural Heritage including the intangible cultural heritage in South Asia, broadening of cooperation among Member States in promoting contemporary arts and culture in South Asia, promotion of cultural tourism, pilgrims, holding of cultural festivals, film festivals etc., and cooperation with international organizations.